September 2018 Issue of Wines & Vines
 
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Double Canyon, Single Focus

New facility provides focus and room to grow for Washington winery

 
by Peter Mitham
 
 

Despite the long gestation and lofty ambitions for the Double Canyon winery in the new Red Mountain Center industrial park in West Richland, Wash., the focus of the facility is incredibly tight.

It's Cabernet Sauvignon.

And not just Cabernet Sauvignon, winemaker Kate Michaud says as she shows off the equipment in the 47,000-square-foot facility that opened last September, but small lots of Washington's most-planted grape. "One of the things that really spoke to me when I took this job was the scale of all of this," said Michaud, who, among other previous experience, had a hand in the launch of the boutique Chardonnay brand CheckMate by Von Mandl Family Estates in British Columbia.

"This scale is not common. Usually you're doing 2,000, 18,000 tons, or you're doing a couple hundred tons, maybe, so your tanks are scaled accordingly," Michaud said. "You either have all 12,000-, 16,000-, 18,000-, 24,000-gallon tanks or you have a bunch of tanks that are 500 gallons to 1,500 gallons and a bunch of barrels."

Double Canyon fits in between, with a bias toward small. Its largest tanks are just 7,200 gallons, and the equipment parallels blocks in the winery's estate vineyard overlooking the Columbia River. "Those blocks kind of equate to 7 tons, 14 tons, 12 tons," Michaud explained, just right for its 2,500-, 4,500- and 3,500-gallon tanks, respectively. "It also allows us to keep all our blocks separate. Because we don't have 19,000-gallon tanks, we're not forced into making picking decisions that put two, three blocks together to be able to (fully) utilize the tanks."

She said she believes the connections inevitably translate into quality defined by phenolics rather than sugars. "In my interview with (Crimson chief wine grower) Craig Williams, I was telling him I was after this holy grail of how to make an ageworthy wine," Michaud recalled of the process that led to her being hired in early 2017. "He told me the holy grail is bound anthocyanins and left me with that."

The quest for bound anthocyanins - a combination of the tannins and anthocyanins in grape skins - framed the construction of the production facility and now drives how Michaud works within it.

Crimson began planning for Double Canyon in 2005, seeking, in the words of general manager Will Beightol, "the next great place to make world-class Cabernet."

The financial crisis of 2008 put realization of the vision on hold, but not the preparations. Planting of its estate vineyard, now at 107 acres, began in 2007 on 185 acres in the Horse Heaven Hills near Alderdale, Wash. The first grapes were harvested in 2010 and went into tanks at Artifex Wine Co. in Walla Walla, Wash. Plans for a dedicated production facility began to take shape in 2013.

"We were at a couple of custom-crush facilities for a number of years and decided to invest into our own facility, mainly to have a little more control," said Sheldon Parker, senior director of operations with Crimson Wine Group.

The design team included Parker, Beightol, Craig Williams and winemakers Michael Beaulac of Pine Ridge Vineyards in Napa Valley and Casey McClellan of Seven Hills Winery in Walla Walla, which Crimson acquired in 2016.

The result was a simple, tilt-up facility geared toward production rather than visitors, though a 1,000-square-foot tasting room opened on-site this summer. (Crimson also pours wines from its portfolio at The Estates tasting room near Seattle's historic Pioneer Square.) Construction cost about $2 million, public filings indicate (the exact amount was not disclosed). "We made sure we got all the right equipment. From a construction perspective, we were probably very fortunate that there wasn't Napa pricing," Parker said. "I think you get a little bit more for your money up here."

The savings allowed some cutting-edge equipment, including a Diemme Kappa 50 destemmer-crusher that adjusts to the quality of incoming grapes. It's the first known installation in the U.S.

"You can toggle the crusher to a position that allows you to crush without destemming or crush with destemming. You can also choose to destem only, without crushing, or use a chute that bypasses everything," Michaud said. It's "fairly unusual to have the ability to adjust on the fly with the fruit."

A Pellenc Optimum harvester equipped with Pellenc's Selectiv technology that eliminates 99% of material other than grapes (MOG), including rachis and leaves, is used to harvest the grapes. This saves time, something Michaud has come to appreciate. "Getting the fruit here as quickly as possible to the winery does move my needle now," she said.

White grapes go immediately to a Diemme Velvet 115 press that can handle up to 25 tons of destemmed fruit or 40 tons of must, though it typically handled 18 tons of white grapes and 25 tons of red must during its first season.

Michaud said she likes to press off juice from the must a little early to avoid over-extraction.

White juice for Seven Hills Winery goes into tall and skinny 5,000-gallon fermenters that are fully jacketed. Red grapes go into squat and square LaGarde tanks for seven to 21 days. The red tanks are also fully jacketed, including on the bottom. This ensures temperature control prior to fermentation, and a rapid transition to fermentation that limits degradation of the must. It "means we're going to cold soak for four to seven days at 50 degrees, then when we want to turn on and start fermenting, we can just get the temp (up) quickly, then cool it should we need to," Michaud said. It "feels like a game-changer for me, just because it feels so customized."

When fermentation begins, the square tanks ensure even contact between the cap and must. "It's even," Michaud explained. "You want that one-to-one ratio because you want the cap to be thinner so that there's more skins and color and contact with the juice."



All transfer lines are chased or pushed with nitrogen gas rather than water, to avoid diluting juice or wine and to conserve water.

The tanks are sized to handle the grapes by the vineyard block or in larger lots as necessary, but what stands out about the facility is the degree of automation. All the controls can be locked in, and data on ferments is stored in the cloud via TankNet. The in-house lab uses Vintrace, which tracks data during tastings for detailed analysis down the road. The result is a facility operating with a regular staff of just three people in addition to Beightol and Michaud. During harvest, winery staffing doubles, while an additional 15 people work in the vineyard.

The effects come together most clearly during fermentation, which TankNet allows Michaud to manage remotely from her mobile device. The winery's four 2,500-gallon open-top fermenters each have a centrifugal pump bolted onto them that can be triggered from her phone. "I can see my tank pump-throughs, I can see my tank temperatures, I can see my cap temperature and my juice temperature, and I can see that the delta is too high and my cap is too high, and I say 'spin that tank,' and this all starts," she said.

Pumpovers can also be scheduled for certain set points, reducing labor demands and allowing shorter pumpovers at regular intervals to create more integrated wines.

"I think our strategy is going to be more pumpovers for short amounts of time because we're not using manpower to do it," she said. "It's (a) more customized extraction based on organoleptic tasting and seeing where we are, paired with numbers that we're seeing in the lab."

When fermentation completes, the wine is put into barrels split 67% to French and the rest to American oak. Taransaud is the benchmark, and this year Michaud is trialing Seguin Moreau low-aroma Icône barrels. Her larger lots go into American oak barrels from Nadalie, Demptos and Canton. "I am more comfortable with French oak and more comfortable with the coopers that I have been working with, but in saying that you still kind of need a sub-$1,000 barrel to be your workhorse barrel," she said.

The barrel room, which is as sophisticated as the rest of the operation, has 22-foot ceilings. It is where Michaud's quest for bound anthocyanins comes into play.

"I had to figure out how to get to bound anthocyanins. And the way you do is being able to heat to kind of bind up the pre-anthocyanins. So all these barrel rooms have the ability to be held at 80 degrees should I want to, and I probably will," she said.

While the room will normally be at 55° F, ancillary heaters hanging in the corners allow Michaud to raise the temperature as needed.

The barrel room also features four Aerocide units, originally developed by NASA to ensure a supply of fresh air for astronauts. Twice a day, ultraviolet light will process the air in the barrel room and get rid of airborne yeasts, bacteria and other microbes. Primarily designed to prevent problems from starting, the system also aims to allow higher humidity levels in the barrel room without encouraging microbial development.

It "feels like a pretty nice insurance piece that we have there," Michaud said. "It also means we can turn our humidity up more and have less evaporation, less topping losses, because we're not worried about a higher humidity, which would mean, normally, more mold."

Supporting the controls on heat and humidity are high-performing concrete sandwich-panel walls that have an R value of 25 to withstand the harsh winter conditions of the eastern Washington desert. The sandwich is formed by embedding a layer of insulating foam between two concrete wythes to form a single panel 14 inches thick and indistinguishable from any other tilt-up assembly.

Rounding out microbial control is a Tom Beard unit that washes, steams and treats barrels with ozone in a single pass. Rinse water recirculates to become wash water for the next set of barrels.

Casey McClellan, who became involved with the design process following Seven Hills' acquisition in 2016, is impressed. McClellan continues to oversee the making of Seven Hills' small-lot wines at its home winery in Walla Walla, but automation means he can continue to keep tabs on the larger lots produced in West Richland. "They've got a lot of great tools and equipment, and a lot of control," McClellan said.

With one vintage behind him, there's nothing in particular he would change.

Parker is also satisfied with the results and how the facility has performed since coming online in September 2017. He doesn't anticipate any problems with its second vintage coming up; instead, expansion is on his mind.

He describes the current facility as Phase 1 and includes space - currently used to host events - to produce up to 50,000 cases (current production is about 21,800 cases). Crimson can also "Lego on" another barrel room to the end of the existing facility. The site is 11 acres and can accommodate expansion to 80,000 square feet or even 120,000 square feet. "Theoretically, we could go up to 200,000 cases," Parker said.

The mechanical room was built to exactly this scale, with double the capacity needed. The boiler, for example, is a massive engine with a 4 million BTU capacity. "The boiler to the air tanks to the recirc tanks for hot water to the air compressor, everything is built already sized to expand to whatever we get to," Parker said. "If we have the sales that support it, we will expand."

 
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